Pioneering Indian American political activist Rajen Anand, who served during both the Clinton and Obama administrations at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and founded the Indo American Political Association, died Aug. 2 in Annandale, Virginia.
“Rajen was a pioneering leader many years before I considered running for office. He was a trailblazer for me and so many others,” Kumar Barve, a member of the Maryland state House of Delegates, told India-West.
“He forced people to understand that Indian Americans should have a seat at the table. That was a novel idea in the 1980s,” said Barve, the longest-serving Indian American legislator.
Anand had celebrated his 80th birthday just two months before his death. He leaves behind his wife, Angela Anand; and two sons, Sunjay and Shabeen Anand, who were born in Long Beach, Calif.
Anand’s wife, Angela Anand, told India-West that her husband had been struggling with renal failure for a few years and was on dialysis. Earlier this year, Anand caught pneumonia, and – after finishing his treatment – caught the flu. He was in hospice, but then requested to come home, said Angela, who added that the family took him back to the hospital a few hours before he died peacefully, surrounded by his family.
“He was getting weaker and weaker. His body just gave out. But his suffering has ended,” said Angela emotionally.
Funeral services were held Aug. 5 at the Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home in Fairfax, Virginia. An online tribute to Anand has been established.
Rajen Anand came to the U.S. in 1963, from Mhow in Madhya Pradesh, and earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis. At UC Davis, the young political leader served as secretary of the nascent India Association and then president of the university’s International Club.
In 1968, Anand made his first big political move, inviting Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy to speak at the university. Kennedy accepted, and spoke on campus in May; a month later, he was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, shortly after winning the California primary election.
Anand married his wife Angela in 1969; the couple moved to Long Beach, Calif., in 1970, as he took up a teaching position at California State University, Long Beach.
“We were both very politically active,” Angela told India-West by telephone from her home in Annandale. “Rajen felt we should either have the ability to lead or to follow the leaders. He wanted to show politicians the strength of our community, and became more and more active in the Democratic party at the local, state, and national levels,” she said.
Physician Parvin Syal, a friend of Anand’s for more than 40 years, told India-West that Democratic heavyweights Mike Roos and Willie Brown, the longest-serving speaker of the California State Assembly, courted Anand and Syal, and urged them to connect to the larger Asian American community.
“We did not have a voice then. Rajen was instrumental in building bridges with other Asian groups, so that we collectively had a larger presence,” said Syal, noting that Anand was one of his first friends when he moved to Southern California.
Anand was also instrumental in founding the National Federation of Indian American Associations in 1980, Inder Singh, co-founder and past president of the NFIA, told India-West.
When former President Bill Clinton won the 1992 presidential election, Singh said the NFIA pushed Anand towards getting an appointment in the administration to increase the visibility of Indian Americans at the national level. Anand worked through several levels of the administration during Clinton’s two terms in office and ended up heading the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.
As executive director of that agency, Anand campaigned tirelessly against the growing epidemic of obesity, particularly amongst the nation’s youth. He left the role in 2001, when Clinton’s second term ended, and once again took up his post at CSU Long Beach.
Anand came back to the USDA in 2009, after former President Barack Obama took office. He again served as the executive director at the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, but was forced to quit in 2012, due to his failing health.
“The tangible benefit of Rajen’s legacy are all the Indian Americans currently serving in Congress and state legislatures,” Barve told India-West.
Please see our earlier profile of Anand here.